Connect with us





It was a horrible accident. What was left of the black Mercedes lay outside the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris after the devastating crash in August 1997. French firefighter Xavier Gourmelon was among the first to arrive at the scene early on that tragic Saturday morning and immediately went to work rescuing the victims. But Gourmelon and his team had no idea who the victims truly were.

As he pulled the blonde woman out of the wrecked car, he noticed that she still had signs of life. Her lips moved as she struggled to let words out. But Gourmelon could barely hear her, so he leaned closer. That was when it hit him that the woman whose life he was fighting to save was special⁠. After almost three decades, Gourmelon finally shared that he really thought Princess Diana would survive. But after her tragic death, he would learn that he had been the recipient of her final words…

The Accident

Gourmelon, along with nine other firemen, raced to the Pont d’ Alma underpass to help the victims of the devastating crash. The vehicle involved, a Mercedes-Benz W140, had its front totally wrecked in the accident. Looking inside it, the men could see that one of its occupants appeared to have died.

WINDSOR, ENGLAND - JUNE 16: Lady Diana Spencer, wearing a yellow, pink and blue silk striped suit designed by David Neil, sits in a car while attending a polo match at Windsor Great Park following a day at Royal Ascot on June 16, 1981 in Windsor, England. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/WireImage)
Anwar Hussein/GettyImages

Gourmelon examined the situation. He scoured the luxury saloon to see if there was anyone else he could still try and save. Then his eyes caught a young, blonde woman inside. She looked like she was still breathing, albeit faintly.

To the Rescue

When Gourmelon successfully freed the blonde woman from the car, she was in fairly stable condition, so he was surprised to learn that she later passed away in the hospital. All the while he was attending to her, he had no idea who she actually was and simply concentrated on doing his best to ensure she survived in that critical moment.

TETBURY, ENGLAND - MAY 22: Lady Diana Spencer, wearing a red and white polka dot suit designed by Jasper Conran, waves as she attends her first walkabout with her fiance Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, two months before their wedding, on May 22, 1981 in Tetbury, Gloucestshire, United Kingdom. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/WireImage)
Anwar Hussein/GettyImages

He was even more shocked later on when he found out that the young woman he had saved was, in fact, Diana, Princess of Wales. But there was more to the situation. While he was helping her out of the car, she whispered something to him. And he kept those words a secret for two decades.

Diana’s Destiny

With an aristocratic heritage, Lady Diana Spencer became acquainted with the royal family at an early age. Her family lived near the Sandringham House, so she often saw many of the kingdom’s nobles and spent time during her younger years with them. 

Lady Diana Spencer, the future Diana, Princess of Wales (1961 - 1997) at a polo match in Hampshire, 1981. It was on this occasion that she was driven to tears by press intrusion. (Photo by Kypros/Getty Images)

Academically, however, Spencer wasn’t so fortunate, so she later compensated for it by taking a slew of low-paying jobs in London. However, Diana was destined for a more illustrious future. At 16, her life took an interesting turn that would forever change not only the way she lived but also her family’s fortune.

Nuptial Bells

Diana aged beautifully, but she never shed her shy and humble nature. It was this graceful personality of hers that attracted Charles, Prince of Wales. At the time, Charles was dating Sarah, her older sister, but soon after, a relationship blossomed between the prince and Diana.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 29: Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a wedding dress designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel and the Spencer family Tiara, leave St. Paul
Anwar Hussein/GettyImages

The couple tied the knot in 1981 in a fairytale-like ceremony that was broadcast all over the world. An estimated 700 million people worldwide tuned in to watch the Prince of Wales and Diana exchange vows at St. Paul’s Cathedral. But unlike fairytales, sadly, this couple did not live happily ever after.

The Center of Attention

Now a member of Britain’s royal family, Diana faced rules and stringent expectations that were not aligned with her reserved and humble nature. At first, it seemed that having married a prince was the best thing that could have happened to her, but the union soon became agonizing for Diana, especially when she discovered she was pregnant.

LONDON - SEPTEMBER 1980:  Diana Spencer at the Young England Kindergarten in September 1980 shortly before her engagement to Prince Charles, Prince of Wales was announced.  (Photo by Anwar Hussein/WireImage)
Anwar Hussein/GettyImages

For the most part, the void Diana felt within her was because she considered herself undeserving of her new position as a princess. As the media and paparazzi swarmed around her, following her every move and even publishing photographs of her and her family in what were supposed to be intimate and private moments, Diana became overwhelmed. But as the years went by, she quickly learned that the stress of constantly being under the public eye would not be the only bane of her life.

In Secret

The public saw Prince Charles’s family as a happy, picture-perfect clan. But on the other side of the royal walls, it was a tumultuous affair (quite literally) and their marriage was breaking down. It was reported that both Charles and Diana cheated on each other, and it was later revealed that she suffered from an eating disorder, as well as episodes of mental breakdowns. 

CAIRO, EGYPT - MAY 12: Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a yellow blouse and skirt, during a visit to the Cairo Institute of Polio and Rehabilitation on May 12, 1992 in Cairo, Egypt. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)
Anwar Hussein/GettyImages

While Diana battled to keep a happy demeanor for her role in the public eye, it is widely believed that Charles’s rekindled and brazen love affair with his old flame Camila Parker-Bowles, was the final straw in their marriage, as it was done with no regard for Diana’s feelings.

Separate Ways

Just a little over a decade after their wedding-of-the-century nuptials, Charles’s and Diana’s marriage crumbled irrevocably. They separated in 1992 and their divorce was finalized in 1996. Fans of the couple were devastated, and it was reported that the divorce hurt Diana more than it did Prince Charles.

Princess Diana, Princess of Wales  making a speech at the Centrepoint Conference for the Homeless at the Savoy Theatre, on December 12, 1995 in London, England.   (Photo by Anwar Hussein/WireImage)
Anwar Hussein/GettyImages

Without many friends to confide in, she stepped back from public life. One tabloid reporter claimed that Diana had very few “true friends” in her life. But on the bright side, Diana’s love life thrived after she and Charles split.

Scandalous Affairs

Still young and gorgeous, it was reported that a throng of suitors surrounded the princess. It was also alleged that during her marriage, she was engaged in love affairs with men such as cavalryman James Hewitt and her bodyguard Paul Manakee.

Princess Diana wtih her bodyguard, Detective Alan Peters (right), circa 1990. (Photo by Tom Stoddart/Getty Images)
Tom Stoddart Archive/GettyImages

It also came to light that she had to axe her affair with childhood friend James Gilbey, a car dealer, after phone calls became public in which he called her “Squidgy.” As you can imagine, the media feasted on that specific story.

Behind Closed Doors

Then British-Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan came along and stole the princess’s heart. It appeared their relationship brought joy back into her life. The romance was kept a tight secret, as Diana searched for a way to live far from the public eye.

File Photo Showing Dr Hasnat Khan Visiting A Hospital On The Outskirts Of London In 1997. (Photo by Antony Jones/UK Press via Getty Images)
Antony Jones/GettyImages

She disclosed to friends that she had never met anyone like Khan. The princess had been completely enamored by the surgeon when she first met him while on a visit with a friend to London’s Royal Brompton Hospital.

Head Over Heels

What’s more, according to Vanity Fair, Khan and Diana’s romance continued to progress to the point where they started talking about marriage. Though the princess tried to persuade Khan to agree to a private wedding, he reportedly expelled the idea.

284700 05: (FILE PHOTO) Heart surgeon Hasnat Khan is shown walking in this 1996 file photo. According to British
Getty Images/GettyImages

Hasnat was never a fan of all the publicity that came with dating the world’s most famous woman. Instead, he proposed that they both move to Pakistan, where they’d be free of the media meddling in their affairs. Diana reportedly actually gave the idea some genuine consideration.

Nearly Wed

On top of that, the princess also reportedly shared her feelings about Hasnat with her close friends, who is now prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan. Khan later revealed that the conversations he had with her convinced him that she was in love with Hasnat.

LAHORE, PAKISTAN - FEBRUARY 20: Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a traditional pink shalwar kameez, is welcomed at Lahore airport by Imran Khan on February 20, 1996 in Lahore, Pakistan. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/WireImage)
Anwar Hussein/GettyImages

But ultimately, the relationship started to fall apart. Despite the new development, Diana continued to work tirelessly for causes she supported. She attended the English National Ballet and visited Mother Theresa before gracing the 1997 cover of Vanity Fair.

Someone New

That very month, Egyptian billionaire Mohammed Al-Fayed invited Diana to holiday in St. Tropez in the south of France. Al-Fayed first met Diana and Prince Charles in July 1986, when they were introduced at a polo tournament.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 08:  Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a red suit designed by Catherine Walker, listens to speeches as she attends The London Lighthouse for the launch of the
Anwar Hussein/GettyImages

Diana accepted his invitation and went on the trip with her two sons, Princes William and Harry, and they stayed in the billionaire’s villa. It came as little surprise when reports started flying around that it was there that Diana became romantically involved with Al Fayed’s son, Dodi.

New Romance

Even while on vacation in France, the People’s Princess and her brood were still not free from the prying eyes of the press. She was stalked by the paparazzi, and many still haven’t forgotten when pictures of her kissing Dodi aboard the Al Fayed family’s yacht made frontpage news.

MAJORCA, SPAIN - AUGUST 15:  (L-R) Diana, Princess of Wales, Charles, Prince of Wales, and King Constantine II of Greece on board the yacht of King Juan Carlos of Spain
Georges De Keerle/GettyImages

During an unplanned press briefing later on, Diana told the reporters present that she would stun them with her next move. But unbeknownst to her or anyone else, her statement would end up being eerily predictive.

Dodi Al Fayed

Princess Diana and Dodi’s relationship strengthened in the weeks before they were tragically killed. But he is said to have admired the princess from afar and had his eyes set on her long before his father invited her on a luxury trip to France.

HONG KONG - NOVEMBER 07:  Diana, Princess of Wales, during her official visit to Hong Kong on November 7, 1989 in Hong Kong.  (Photo by Georges De Keerle/Getty Images)
Georges De Keerle/GettyImages

Dodi was the eldest son and had grown up in affluence. But he’d also made a name for himself as a movie producer and earned credits on Hook, Chariots of Fire, and The Scarlet Letter.

It’s Over 

Upon returning to London, Diana called off her two-year relationship with Hasnat Khan, the man she had once referred to as “Mr. Wonderful,” as he later told the police. He quickly presumed she had opened up her heart to someone new⁠ – maybe a member of the Al Fayed family.

BRAEMAR, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 05: Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a tartan dress designed by Caroline Charles and a black Tam o
Anwar Hussein/GettyImages

Khan did not hold the Egyptian businessman in high regard and let the princess know that he felt the new affair would end up hurting her. But although Diana was heartbroken that she and Khan hadn’t worked out, her mind was made up about Dodi.

Head Over Heels

Dodi was clearly smitten by Diana⁠, despite the fact that he was at that time engaged to American model Kelly Fisher. Apparently, to make the princess aware of his intentions, he reportedly showered her with expensive gifts, including exotic tropical fruits, a Cartier watch, and flowers that filled her entire room.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 03: Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a red jacket designed by Jan van Velden, with a white and red polka dot dress and a matching hat, during a visit to the Royal Botanical Gardens on November 3, 1985 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)
Anwar Hussein/GettyImages

He would, at last, receive a positive response to his expressions of love when Diana agreed to embark on a relationship with him. Dodi had earned a harmless playboy status before getting involved with Diana and was known to have dated a string of celebs, including Brooke Shields and Julia Roberts.

Engagement Rumors

In any case, views differed about the strength of Diana and Dodi’s relationship as the summer of 1997 came to an end. Vanity Fair, for example, stated that Dodi intended to buy the princess a ring.

Diana, Princess of Wales (1961 - 1997) attends the races, UK, circa 1981. (Photo by Kypros/Getty Images)

However, the princess had told her close friend Rosa Monckton that she was going to wear the ring on a finger on her right hand. Furthermore, Monckton felt that Diana just wanted to make Khan envious. Dodi’s dad, on the contrary, strongly believed that the ring was meant to mark the pair’s engagement.

Happy Days

Whatever the reality of the situation was, however, Diana and Dodi clearly enjoyed spending time with each other. And at the end of July 1997, the couple decided to embark on a cruise together to Sardinia.

MAJORCA, SPAIN - AUGUST 15:  Diana, Princess of Wales, on board the yacht of King Juan Carlos of Spain
Georges De Keerle/GettyImages

But being the hottest couple on the planet meant the paparazzi was once again hot on their heels. In August of that year, Diana was present at an anti-landmine event in Bosnia. While she was there, photographs of her and Dodi snuggling on his yacht hit newsstands.

Ready for the Next Step

The pair was back in France at the end of the month following their wonderful vacation in Sardinia. This time, they chose to visit the city of Paris, checking into the Hôtel Ritz, which is owned by Dodi’s father.

VERSAILLES, FRANCE - NOVEMBER 28: Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a black halter-neck evening gown with bugle beads designed by Catherine Walker, attends La Deuxieme Nuit International de L
Anwar Hussein/GettyImages

In 2019, The Daily Mirror reported that whilst Diana remained in their suite, Dodi headed out to a jeweler to secure the ring that the princess was anticipating. Then during the night of August 30, 1997, they decided to eat out at the extravagant Benoit restaurant.

Paparazzi Trouble

Although the couple had planned on an intimate dinner together, the paparazzi threatened to ruin their night out. As they hit the road on their way to Benoit, they were followed by about 30 photographers. So the pair made a u-turn back to the Ritz, deciding instead to dine at the hotel’s L’Espadon restaurant.

LLANTWIT MAJOR, WALES - JUNE 05: Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a red jacket designed by Jan van Velden, with a white and red polka dot dress and a matching hat, visits Atlantic College on June 5, 1985 in Llantwit Major, United Kingdom. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)
Anwar Hussein/GettyImages

But as they settled down to their meal, Dodi became concerned that some of the guests around them were actually paparazzi. This left him and Diana with no other alternative but to return to their suite.

Being Trailed

As soon as they were done with dinner, Diana and Dodi decided to retire to his luxurious apartment on the Rue Arsène Houssaye for the rest of the night. But once more, they faced a glaring problem.

Photographers and camera operators gather behind a security barrier outside Manor House on Prince William
Princess Diana Archive/GettyImages

The paparazzi had tailed the couple from the minute they left the Ritz earlier that evening. So the couple was almost certain that photographers were lurking around, waiting for them to make a move. Eventually, they came up with what can be termed a grand plot.

A Simple Plan

The plan involved Henri Paul, the deputy head of security at the hotel. Although it was his night off, Paul was called back in to drive Dodi, the princess, and her bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones to Dodi’s apartment.

LA SPEZIA - APRIL 20: Diana Princess of Wales with Prince Charles on board a ship at the naval base on April 20, 1985 in La Spezia, Italy during the Royal Tour of Italy. Diana wore a dress by Catherine Walker with a hat by Kangol (Photo by David Levenson/Getty Images)
David Levenson/GettyImages

It was arranged that two decoy cars would leave from the main entrance of the hotel in order to fool the paparazzi, while Paul and the others would exit through the back in a hired black Mercedes Benz. This wall took place in the early hours of August 31, 1997.

Just After Midnight

They all got in the car and Paul zoomed down the road. But the swarm of paparazzi somehow had become aware of the plan and began aggressively tailing the limo. Sitting in front with Paul was Rees-Jones.

LONDON - JANUARY 23:  Princess Diana
Daniel Berehulak/GettyImages

Subsequently, an inquest heard that the paparazzi, who had earlier on been goaded by Paul outside the hotel, had attempted to “block” the vehicle to force Paul to slow down, but their efforts were futile. Rather, the Mercedes proceeded on its journey, traveling at about 65 mph before disaster struck.

A Sad Fate

The limo continued to blaze down the road. Just three minutes after departing the hotel, right as he was entering the tunnel under Pont d’Alma, Paul lost control of the vehicle. There were no paparazzi closeby at the time that would have been blamed for the mishap, so ultimately, the inquest would place the error on Paul.

Anadolu Agency/GettyImages

Not only was he driving with so much alcohol in his system that he was more than three times over the legal limit, but it was also found that he was under the effects of prescription drugs.

The Tragic Crash

The vehicle hit the wall of the tunnel, swerved left, and with great force, rammed into one of the pillars that supported the roof. It was a brutal and fatal crash that claimed Paul’s life on the spot. And as the mangled remains of the black limo lay in the tunnel, the paparazzi, who had been pursuing the car on motorbikes, arrived at the scene.

ZELL AM SEE, AUSTRIA - SEPTEMBER 08: A motorcyclist and cars drive through the tunnel of the the Hochtor (2504 m) on September 08, near Zell am See, Austria. The Grossglockner high alpine road is the highest  mountain pass road in Austria. It connects Bruck in the state of Salzburg with Heiligenblut in Carinthia. The road is named after the Grossglockner, Austria
Jan Hetfleisch/GettyImages

But they made little effort to help the affected passengers, opting instead to photograph the wreckage. Thankfully, though, someone eventually put a call through to emergency services, and a team of firefighters hurried out from the Malar station close by.

Rescuers Arrive

The team of heroic firefighters was headed by Gourmelon – the duty officer on that tragic night. Now, 20 years after his encounter with the victims, he revealed to The Sun exactly what he and his team had discovered.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 23:  Debris from cars is seen on the road as police crash scene investigators and firemen inspect vehicles involved in a fatal collision inside Melbourne

Recalling details about the accident involving the world’s most famous couple at the time, Gourmelon said, “The car was in a mess, and we just dealt with it like any road accident. We got straight to work to see who needed help and who was alive.”

Helping the Victims

As an experienced firefighter, the horror crash Gourmelon witnessed was not new to him, and he did what he knew best: analyze the situation and provide help. “For me, this was simply a banal traffic accident⁠ – one of many that emergency services have to deal with⁠ – and it was the usual causes: speed and a drunk driver,” Gourmelon went on.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 23:  Police crash scene investigators and firemen inspect vehicles involved in a fatal collision inside Melbourne

He also immediately knew that nothing could be done to save Paul. In his interview with The Sun, Gourmelon said, “When I got to the car, I could see the driver was already dead, and there was nothing that could be done for him.”


Unfortunately, Dodi’s fate in the back seat of the limo wasn’t much better. While still inside, he had suffered a heart attack. Gourmelon was familiar with such traumas, and Dodi’s situation was not looking good at all. He did not survive and died shortly after impact.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - JULY 15: Rescuers wait to evacuate passengers injured as several subway cars derailed in Moscow, on July 15, 2014. At least 18 people died and dozens were injured after a train derailed in the Moscow metro in a tunnel between Park Pobedy and Slavyansky Bulvar stations, in rush hour on Tuesday morning. The cause of the crash is reported to be a power surge, which prompted the train to stop abruptly. (Photo by Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Anadolu Agency/GettyImages

Once he’d been extracted from the vehicle, the paramedics called his time of death. But for bodyguard Rees-Jones, there was hope. Although he had been severely injured, including several major facial injuries, he, fortunately, went on to make a recovery.

The Princess’s Bodyguard

Even though he was in great danger, Rees-Jones’s major concern was clearly Diana. In a state of panic, he repeatedly asked for the princess. As Gourmelon recalled, “He kept asking for the princess, saying, ‘Where is she? Where is she?’”

LONDON - JANUARY 23:  Princess Diana
Daniel Berehulak/GettyImages

“But my team told him to keep calm and not speak. I told him that none of my men spoke English so it was better for him to keep still and not move. I told him not to worry we were looking after everyone,” he added. This advice may have been the thing to save Rees-Jones’s life, as despite his extensive injuries (including breaking every bone in his face that required doctors to use family photos as references to rebuild his looks with 150 titanium plates) and 10 days in a coma, he would be the only survivor. Now head of security for AstraZeneca, he published The Bodyguard’s Story: Diana, The Crash, And The Sole Survivor in 2000 and was then involved in lawsuits with Dodi’s father, who he said put “intense” pressure on him to remember the events of that fateful night.

Diana Spencer

In the meantime, Gourmelon took care of Diana, but at the time, he had no idea who she was and identified her as the mystery “blonde woman.” The princess was lying on the floor in the back seat of the car. She was conscious and her eyes were open, so the hero firefighter felt she would be alright after all.

LAGOS, NIGERIA - MARCH 15:  Diana, Princess of Wales, attends a State Banquet during her official visit to Nigeria on March 15, 1990 in Lagos, Nigeria. The princess wears a Catherine Walker dress.  (Photo by Georges De Keerle/Getty Images)
Georges De Keerle/GettyImages

Diana was also reportedly able to make some small movements. But despite her state, crucial seconds were ticking by, and she needed to be moved to a hospital immediately.

The Princess of Wales

Gourmelon gave Diana oxygen and she grasped his hand as he got ready to bring her out of the limo. And the entire time he had no idea he was really attending to the Princess of Wales. This he later revealed in his interview with the newspaper.

UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 04:  Diana, Princess of Wales (1961 -1997) during the Queen Mother
Georges De Keerle/GettyImages

He told The Sun, “It was only when she had been put into the ambulance that one of the paramedics told me it was [Princess Diana].” In addition, the firefighter also disclosed the chilling words she spoke to him that night.

The Words

While Gourmelon cared for the princess, making sure she didn’t suffer any more harm, she uttered some words to him that may just have been the last words she ever spoke.

TOKYO, JAPAN - MAY 12: Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a pleated royal blue evening dress designed by fashion designer Yuki and a sapphire and diamond headband made from jewels which she had reset from the Saudi suite converting the watch into a choker to wear on her forehead, attends a dinner hosted by Emperor Hirohito on May 12, 1986 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)
Anwar Hussein/GettyImages

Apparently in shock at the mess of the wrecked car, she reportedly said to the man who had rescued her, “My God, what’s happened?” And although Gourmelon did not disclose in his interview whether he ever replied to the princess or not, he spoke about what happened to her next.

Saving a Life

Diana was certainly in good hands with Gourmelon and the rest of the first responders as they worked tirelessly to save her and Rees-Jones after their horrific ordeal. But given the circumstances, there was only so much they could do.


Gourmelon said, “I gave [Diana] some oxygen, and my team and I stayed by her side as she was taken out of the car. It was very quick because we didn’t have to cut any of the wreckage.” But sadly, as she was placed on a stretcher, she suffered a heart attack.

Cardiac Arrest

Diana, who had been sitting in the right-back passenger seat when the crash occurred, was reported to have had no visible serious injuries. But the nightmare wasn’t over yet for the princess. She went into cardiac arrest at about 1:00 am, so Gourmelon quickly gave her aid.

MONACO - SEPTEMBER 18: Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a black dress and black boater hat with a netted veil, attends the funeral of Princess Grace of Monaco on September 18, 1982 in Monaco. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)
Anwar Hussein/GettyImages

At first, it appeared to work. He said in his interview, “I massaged her heart, and a few seconds later she started breathing again. It was a relief, of course, because as a first responder you want to save lives⁠ – and that’s what I thought I had done.”

No Visible Major Injury

After Diana’s heart started beating again, Gourmelon strongly believed that she would be fine. And he had good reason to think so. Firstly, there wasn’t any blood on her, despite the severity of the crash.

Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1988 ca.  (Photo by Georges De Keerle/Getty Images)
Georges De Keerle/GettyImages

And what’s more, it appeared she had only sustained a minor injury to her right shoulder, It was all the firefighter could notice. Then Gourmelon and his team may have thought they had effectively protected Diana from any more danger. But little did they know the worst was yet to come for her.

It Appeared She Would Live

Hopes were high when Diana was being moved into the emergency vehicle. She appeared to be stable and was on her way to meet the best hands at Pitié-Salpétrière Hospital. Gourmelon thought the princess had a good chance of survival.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 04:  Diana, Princess of Wales, attends the Queen Mother
Georges De Keerle/GettyImages

He told The Sun, “To be honest, I thought she would live.” But it would be hours after the devastating crash and Diana’s transportation to the hospital that he would receive news that not only shocked him but also rocked the entire world.

Hospital Care

Shortly after 2:00 a.m., the ambulance arrived at the hospital, and Diana was immediately rushed into surgery. Doctors raced against time and fought hard to keep the princess conscious. She had to be revived several times, and their efforts were ultimately futile.

In an overwhelming outpouring of grief and sympathy, over one million bouquets of flowers were left at Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace, and St. James
Peter Turnley/GettyImages

Diana, Princess of Wales, passed on after succumbing to her injuries. She had suffered, amongst others, a ruptured blood vessel close to her heart. The damage was inconspicuous but extensive. Unfortunately, the night wasn’t yet over for Gourmelon.

Princess Diana Is Dead

After Diana had been transported to the hospital, Gourmelon returned to the fire station. He was working a double weekend shift and recalled how he immediately called his wife to tell her what had happened that night.

(Original Caption) Mourners outside Buckingham Palace for the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. (Photo by © Ralf-Finn Hestoft/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Ralf-Finn Hestoft/GettyImages

The lead firefighter said, “[My wife] was asleep, and I told her about the accident and Princess Diana. I said that she had suffered a cardiac arrest, but I’d managed to revive her.” Sadly, though, at around  04:00 a.m., the princess passed away.

The 20-Year-Old Secret

Fondly known as the People’s Princess, the death of Diana shook the world. It was trailed by an unprecedented outpouring of emotion from the public. And for Gourmelon back in France, the events of that fateful night in August remained fresh in his memory.

BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND - APRIL 08: Nationalists try to light a stolen car on Springfield Road just up from Peace Wall interface gates which divide the nationalist and loyalist communities on April 8, 2021 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Trouble has flared for a second night running in the Springfield Road area of Belfast. US President Joe Biden joined UK prime minister Boris Johnson and the Irish prime minister Micheal Martin in a call for calm. Police are describing events as the worst scale of violence seen in Belfast for years.  (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)
Charles McQuillan/GettyImages

Despite the media frenzy, he did not speak about the tragedy for two decades⁠ until he was no longer part of the fire service. In his interview with The Sun, the hero firefighter said, “I can still picture the whole scene. It’s something I’ll never forget and that I always think about at this time of year.”

For news and events coverage, photo features, contributions and adverts contact us via:
Phone: +2348029115783
WhatsApp: +2347037611903
Follow us via:
Facebook: @Words and Shots
Instagram: @words_and_shots
Twitter: @wordsandshots
Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *





The Hainan Island incident occurred on April 1, 2001, when a United States Navy EP-3E ARIES II signals intelligence aircraft and a Chinese J-8II interceptor jet collided in mid-air, resulting in an international dispute between the United States and China (PRC).

The EP-3 was operating about 70 miles (110 km) away from the PRC island province of Hainan, as well as about 100 miles (160 km) away from the China military installation in the Paracel Islands, when it was intercepted by two J-8 fighters. A collision between the EP-3 and one of the J-8s caused a PRC pilot to go missing (later presumed dead); the EP-3 was forced to make an emergency landing on Hainan without approved permission from the Chinese authorities.

The 24 crew members were detained and interrogated by Chinese authorities until a statement was delivered by the United States government regarding the incident. The exact phrasing of this document was intentionally ambiguous and allowed both countries to save face while defusing a potentially volatile situation between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.


This sea area includes the South China Sea Islands, which are claimed by the PRC and several other countries. It is one of the most strategically sensitive areas in the world. The United States and the People’s Republic of China disagree on the legality of the overflights by U.S. naval aircraft of the area where the incident occurred. This part of the South China Sea comprises part of the PRC’s exclusive economic zone based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Chinese claim that the Paracel Islands belong to China.

A PRC Sukhoi Su-27

A PRC Sukhoi Su-27 force is based at Hainan. The island also houses a large signals intelligence facility that tracks civil and military activity in the area and monitors traffic from commercial communications satellites. The United States has long kept the island under surveillance.

In the air

On April 1, 2001, the EP-3 (BuNo 156511), assigned to Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron One (VQ-1, “World Watchers”), had taken off as Mission PR32 from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. At about 9:15 a.m. local time, toward the end of the EP-3’s six-hour ELINT mission, it was flying at 22,000 feet (6,700 m) and 180 knots (210 mph; 330 km/h), on a heading of 110°, about 70 miles (110 km) away from the island.

Two Chinese J-8s from Hainan’s Lingshui airfield approached. One of the J-8s (81194), piloted by Lt. Cdr. Wang Wei, made two close passes to the EP-3. On the third pass, it collided with the larger aircraft. The J-8 broke into two pieces; the EP-3’s radome detached completely and its No. 1 (outer left) propeller was damaged severely. Airspeed and altitude data were lost, the aircraft depressurized, and an antenna became wrapped around the tailplane. The J-8’s tail fin struck the EP-3’s left aileron, forcing it fully upright, and causing the U.S. aircraft to roll to the left at three to four times its normal maximum rate.

The impact sent the EP-3 into a 30° dive at a bank angle of 130°, almost inverted. It dropped 8,000 feet (2,400 m) in 30 seconds, and fell another 6,000 feet (1,800 m) before the pilot, Lt. Shane Osborn, got the EP-3’s wings level and the nose up. He then managed to control the aircraft’s descent by using emergency power on the working engines, allowing him to plan an emergency landing on Hainan.

A United States Navy EP-3E ARIES II signals intelligence aircraft

For the next 26 minutes, the crew of the EP-3 performed an emergency plan which included destroying sensitive items aboard the aircraft, such as electronic equipment related to intelligence-gathering, documents and data. Part of this plan involved pouring freshly brewed coffee into disk drives and motherboards and using an axe from the plane’s survival kit to destroy hard drives.

The EP-3 made an unauthorized emergency landing at Lingshui airfield, after at least 15 distress signals had gone unanswered, with the emergency code selected on the transponder. It landed at 170 knots (200 mph; 310 km/h), with no flaps, no trim, and a damaged left elevator, weighing 108,000 pounds (49,000 kg). The surviving Chinese interceptor had landed there 10 minutes earlier.

Wang was seen to eject after the collision, but the Pentagon said that the damage to the underside of the EP-3 could mean that the cockpit of the Chinese fighter jet was crushed, making it impossible for the pilot to survive. Wang’s body was never recovered, and he was presumed dead.

Cause of collision

Both the cause of the collision and the assignment of blame were disputed. The U.S. government stated that the Chinese jet bumped the wing of the larger, slower, and less maneuverable EP-3. After returning to U.S. soil, the pilot of the EP-3, Lt. Shane Osborn, was allowed to make a brief statement in which he said that the EP-3 was on autopilot and in straight-and-level flight at the time of the collision.

Based on the account of Wang Wei’s wingman, the Chinese government stated that the American aircraft “veered at a wide angle towards the Chinese”, in the process ramming the J-8. This claim cannot be verified since the Chinese government did not release data from the flight recorders of either aircraft, both of which are in its possession.

On the ground

The US Aircraft that was involved in the China faceoff

For 15 minutes after landing, the EP-3 crew continued to destroy sensitive items and data on board the aircraft, as per protocol. They disembarked from the aircraft after soldiers looked through windows, pointed guns, and shouted through bullhorns. The Chinese offered them water and cigarettes. Guarded closely, they were taken to a military barracks at Lingshui where they were interrogated for two nights before being moved to lodgings in Haikou, the provincial capital and largest city on the island. They were generally treated well, but were interrogated at all hours, and so suffered from lack of sleep.

Three U.S. diplomats were sent to Hainan to meet the crew and assess their conditions, and to negotiate their release. They were first allowed to meet with the crew three days after the collision. U.S. officials complained about the slow pace of the Chinese decision.

The 24 crew members (21 men and 3 women) were detained for 10 days in total, and were released soon after the U.S. issued the “letter of the two sorries” to the Chinese. The crew was only partially successful in their destruction of classified material, and some of the material they failed to destroy included cryptographic keys, signals intelligence manuals, and the names of National Security Agency employees.

Some of the captured computers contained detailed information for processing PROFORMA communications from North Korea, Russia, Vietnam, China and other countries. The plane also carried information on the emitter parameters for U.S.-allied radar systems worldwide. The fact that the United States could track People’s Liberation Army Navy submarines via signal transmission was also revealed to China.

Letter of the two sorries

The “Letter of the two sorries” was the letter delivered by the United States Ambassador Joseph Prueher to Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan of the People’s Republic of China to end the incident. The delivery of the letter resulted in the release of the U.S. crew from Chinese custody, as well as the eventual return of the disassembled aircraft.

Fighter pilot Wang Wei was killed because his parachute did not open in time as he tried to escape his aircraft, according to military sources. Photo: Baidu

The letter stated that the United States was “very sorry” for the death of Chinese pilot Wang Wei (王伟), and was “very sorry” the aircraft entered China’s airspace and that its landing did not have “verbal clearance”.

The United States stated that it was “not a letter of apology”, as some state-owned Chinese media outlets characterized it at the time, but “an expression of regret and sorrow”. China had originally asked for an apology, but the U.S. explained, “We did not do anything wrong, and therefore it was not possible to apologize”.

There was further debate over the exact meaning of the Chinese translation issued by the U.S. Embassy. A senior administration official was quoted as saying “What the Chinese will choose to characterize as an apology, we would probably choose to characterize as an expression of regret or sorrow”.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin accepted the expression of “very sorry” as consistent with the formal apology it had sought and released the Americans thereafter.


The crew of the EP-3 was released on April 11, 2001, and returned to their base at Whidbey Island via Honolulu, Hawaii, where they were subject to two days of intense debriefings, followed by a heroes’ welcome. The pilot, Lt. Shane Osborn, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for “heroism and extraordinary achievement” in flight. The J-8B pilot, Wang Wei, was posthumously honored in China as a “Guardian of Territorial Airspace and Waters”. His widow received a personal letter of condolence from President George W. Bush.

The EP-3 crew arrives at Hickam AFB in Hawaii. Pictured saluting is U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Curtis Towne.

Source: Wikipedia

For news and events coverage, photo features, contributions and adverts contact us via:
Phone: +2348029115783
WhatsApp: +2347037611903
Follow us via:
Facebook: @Words and Shots
Instagram: @words_and_shots
Twitter: @wordsandshots
Continue Reading





“Hello darkness, my old friend…” Everybody knows the iconic Simon & Garfunkel song, but do you know the amazing story behind the first line of The Sounds of Silence?

It began 62 years ago, when Arthur “Art” Garfunkel, a Jewish kid from Queens, enrolled in Columbia University. During freshman orientation, Art met a student from Buffalo named Sandy Greenberg, and they immediately bonded over their shared passion for literature and music. Art and Sandy became roommates and best friends. With the idealism of youth, they promised to be there for each other no matter what.

Soon after starting college, Sandy was struck by tragedy. His vision became blurry and although doctors diagnosed it as temporary conjunctivitis, the problem grew worse. Finally after seeing a specialist, Sandy received the devastating news that severe glaucoma was destroying his optic nerves. The young man with such a bright future would soon be completely blind.

Simon & Garfunkel - The Sound of Silence (from The Concert in Central Park)

Sandy was devastated and fell into a deep depression. He gave up his dream of becoming a lawyer and moved back to Buffalo, where he worried about being a burden to his financially-struggling family. Consumed with shame and fear, Sandy cut off contact with his old friends, refusing to answer letters or return phone calls.

Then suddenly, to Sandy’s shock, his buddy Art showed up at the front door. He was not going to allow his best friend to give up on life, so he bought a ticket and flew up to Buffalo unannounced. Art convinced Sandy to give college another go, and promised that he would be right by his side to make sure he didn’t fall – literally or figuratively.

Art kept his promise, faithfully escorting Sandy around campus and effectively serving as his eyes. It was important to Art that even though Sandy had been plunged into a world of darkness, he should never feel alone. Art actually started calling himself “Darkness” to demonstrate his empathy with his friend. He’d say things like, “Darkness is going to read to you now.” Art organized his life around helping Sandy.

One day, Art was guiding Sandy through crowded Grand Central Station when he suddenly said he had to go and left his friend alone and petrified. Sandy stumbled, bumped into people, and fell, cutting a gash in his shin. After a couple of hellish hours, Sandy finally got on the right subway train. After exiting the station at 116th street, Sandy bumped into someone who quickly apologized – and Sandy immediately recognized Art’s voice! Turned out his trusty friend had followed him the whole way home, making sure he was safe and giving him the priceless gift of independence. Sandy later said, “That moment was the spark that caused me to live a completely different life, without fear, without doubt. For that I am tremendously grateful to my friend.”

Sandy graduated from Columbia and then earned graduate degrees at Harvard and Oxford. He married his high school sweetheart and became an extremely successful entrepreneur and philanthropist.

While at Oxford, Sandy got a call from Art. This time Art was the one who needed help. He’d formed a folk rock duo with his high school pal Paul Simon, and they desperately needed $400 to record their first album. Sandy and his wife Sue had literally $404 in their bank account, but without hesitation Sandy gave his old friend what he needed.

Art and Paul’s first album was not a success, but one of the songs, The Sounds of Silence, became a #1 hit a year later. The opening line echoed the way Sandy always greeted Art. Simon & Garfunkel went on to become one of the most beloved musical acts in history.

The two Columbia graduates, each of whom has added so much to the world in his own way, are still best friends. Art Garfunkel said that when he became friends with Sandy, “my real life emerged. I became a better guy in my own eyes, and began to see who I was – somebody who gives to a friend.” Sandy describes himself as “the luckiest man in the world.”

Adapted from Sanford Greenberg’s memoir: “Hello Darkness, My Old Friend: How Daring Dreams and Unyielding Friendship Turned One Man’s Blindness into an Extraordinary Vision for Life.”

For news and events coverage, photo features, contributions and adverts contact us via:
Phone: +2348029115783
WhatsApp: +2347037611903
Follow us via:
Facebook: @Words and Shots
Instagram: @words_and_shots
Twitter: @wordsandshots
Continue Reading





On April 6 2022, Blaise Compaore was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Thomas Sankara.

Earlier, a court in Burkina Faso’s capital indicted former President Blaise Compaoré for his role in the murder of his comrade, Thomas Sankara, on 15 October 1987.

The military court detailed Compaoré’s “complicity in the assassination”, the first time a court in the country has made such an accusation. Compaoré ruled the country until 2014, when he was forced to flee for neighbouring Cote D’Ivoire during a mass uprising.

The decision to try the former leader has been called a landmark moment. Sankara’s family has pursued justice for almost 34 years but while Compaoré was in power there was no possibility of bringing his murderers to justice.

The political history of Burkina Faso is one I have studied and written about extensively, with a particular focus on the circumstances leading to Sankara’s assassination.

It is important to unravel this event and its significance if a trial of Compaoré is to be understood (or to take place).

The Burkinabé revolution

Thomas Sankara was the president of the West African state of Burkina Faso when he was murdered at the age of 37. He was the leader of a bold initiative to transform a country trapped in a dependent relationship with the rest of the world, particularly France.

From the early 1980s, Sankara emerged as a challenger to the cynical class of post-independence leaders. Sankara was a radical army officer who became disgusted by the circulation of a self-serving elite in his country since independence in 1960. During prolonged military training in Madagascar in 1970s he read extensively and studied the history of the continent’s militant movements, and witnessed the toppling of the government in Madagascar itself by students and workers.

Sankara came to power in a popular coup on 4 August 1984. The Burkinabé revolution, as it became known, took place at the start of the age of economic austerity on the African continent. This arose from the structural adjustment policies demanded by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and from cuts to funding for public services.

Economic devastation  and the largely unreformed relationships of African states with former colonial powers formed a pattern which Sankara promised to break. He refused to accept that poverty in West Africa was inevitable, and offered a new kind of freedom.

Development projects imposed by the West had failed, and he saw the future in securing Upper Volta’s (as the country was known before 1984) separation from the exploitative linkages with France, the former colonial power. Sankara was an army officer who envisaged radical change instigated by a movement which could be directed from above, though with the mass participation of the poor.

Many of the reforms that were implemented under the brief period of Sankara’s rule were ambitious, and far-sighted. Sankara’s government launched a mass vaccination programme in an effort to eliminate polio, meningitis and measles. From 1983, 2 million Burkinabé were immunised.

Before 1983 infant mortality in Burkina Faso was at roughly 20% but fell in the period of Sankara’s presidency to 140 per 1000 births. These were vital and welcome initiatives, and they were introduced through state and community structures which had been introduced after the 1983 coup.

As part of the reforms, the Comités de Défense de la Révolution, an institution tasked with policing the revolution, charged themselves with translating instructions and government orders into reality, occasionally resorting to coercive measures. The work of these state sanctioned committees were not straightforward.

Sankara’s project was delivered from above to Burkinabé society. This isolated and weakened him.

Due to the political control of the Conseil National Révolutionnaire, the sovereign body of the revolution, with other parties and civil society organisations banned, Sankara was really vulnerable only to counter-coups from within the military – from forces who wanted to return, broadly speaking, to business as usual with French imperialism, and domestic interests who had profited richly from this relationship. Opposition, under Sankara’s instructions, had been marginalised or stamped out. This left him exposed, with only a small militant core by his side.

Sure enough, a counter coup came. It was ruthlessly planned and executed. Sankara was shot at the presidential residence by gunmen in military uniform.

Compaoré, who had been minister of state at the presidency during Sankara’s years, quickly denied involvement, claiming he was at home and sick. By the evening of the assassination, he was the new president. The new regime quickly returned Burkina Faso to its place in the global political–economic hierarchy – with little reaction from all the Burkinabé who had supported Sankara’s transformation ideas.

Sankara’s murder

There was no popular movement among the working class and the poor that might have resisted a return to the old state. Sankara had stripped himself of the ability to defend the transformation he had tried to achieve.

He had tried to substitute his popularity, charisma and oratory for a real movement that could confront the forces working towards his defeat.

When, in 1961, the Algerian revolutionary Frantz Fanon wrote about Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba’s murder and isolation, he was expressing the dangerous loneliness of the African radical intelligentsia, of which Sankara was a later representative:

‘Each time his enemies emerged in a region of the Congo to raise opinion against him, it was only necessary for him to appear, to explain and to denounce for the situation to return to normal. He forgot that he could not be everywhere at the same time and that the miracle of the explanation was less the truth of what he exposed than the truth of his person.’

With the possible arrest and trial of Compaoré for the murder of his comrade there might be a chance for justice. Compaoré delivered Burkina Faso and its great hopes for revolutionary change back into the hands of international power and French influence. For this he was overthrown by a popular insurrection in October 2014.


On the 15th of October 1987, the leader of the Burkinabe revolution was assassinated. Two years later, Sennen Andriamirado, editor-in-chief of Jeune Afrique and an acquaintance to the former head of state, published “He was called Sankara”. Here is an account of President of Faso’s last day.

When Mariam woke up, Thomas Sankara, who had finally joined her in bed, in his turn fell asleep. On her tiptoes, the president’s wife leaves the room and prepares to go to work.

She has to be there at 3 p.m. Sankara will sleep for another hour, this daily nap is the only time this night owl gets to recover. A break all the more important seeing as the afternoon and the night of the 15th of October, 1987, are going to be long.

At 4 p.m. he leads one of the three weekly meetings for his special cabinet.

On the agenda: a report from one of his advisers who has just returned from Cotonou where he was speaking with the leaders of the Revolutionary People’s Party of Benin and collecting documents on the “Beninese Code of Revolutionary Conduct”; the project to create an a newspaper of the CNR (National Council of the Revolution).

At 8 p.m. there will be a complicated meeting regarding the OMR (Revolutionary Military Organisation).

© First anniversary of the seizure of power by Thomas Sankara, August 4, 1984. Photo Marc Van Muysen / JA Archives

Around 3.30 p.m. Mariam Sankara calls him on the phone. “Daddy is in the shower”, answers her eldest son, Philippe, who was seven years old at the time. She calls back ten minutes later. The president, in sportswear since the morning- white T-shirt and red jogging trousers, is ready to leave.

“First I am going to my 4 p.m. meeting at the ‘Conseil de l’Entente,” he said. Then I’m going to sport at 5 p.m. Afterwards I’ll probably come home for a shower but you won’t be home yet. I won’t see you till after the 8 p.m. meeting. We’ll talk tonight.

Africa Insights

Wake up to the essential with the Editor’s picks.Sign upAlso receive offers from The Africa ReportAlso receive offers from The Africa Report’s partners

In the meantime, the members of the special cabinet have begun to arrive in one of the villas of the Cartel Council, which serves as the headquarters of the NCR.

Alouna Traoré and Paulin Babou Bamouni made a detour through the offices to the presidency just opposite; the others, Bonaventure Compaoré, Frédéric Kiemdé and Patrice Zagré, came directly to the council. Christophe Saba, the permanent secretary for the CNR, has been there since this morning.

© Thomas Sankara in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, February 26, 1987. Archives Jeune Afrique-REA

At 16.20, he decided to call the President who had not yet left his residence, where he was talking with another one of his advisers, the deputy director of the presidential press, Serge Théophile Balima. “We are here Mr President. It is late and we are waiting for you”.

“I’ll be right there,” Sankara replies. He sends Balima back and gets into a black Peugeot 205.

The President sat in the passenger seat, as usual. “I like to see the road, and from behind you can’t see anything,” he often has to explain.

In the back seat are sat two bodyguards. The car following them is occupied by three other bodyguards plus the driver, also a soldier. They are all dressed in sportswear, this Thursday afternoon: twice a week in fact, on Monday and Thursday from 5pm, the Burkinabè are supposed to do exercise. The president and his guards are therefore only armed with their automatic pistol.

Arrival at the Council

At the Council, the members of the special firm are also dressed in sportswear, with the exception of Patrice Zagré, who came in a Mao shirt. At 4:30 p.m., the President arrives. He got out of the 205, followed by four of his guards, who settled in the corridor adjoining the meeting rooms. The drivers parked the two cars in a nearby courtyard and took shelter from the sun in the shade of the tall trees, particularly the Neem trees, which lined the garden.

At 16.35, the chairman takes a seat at the end of the U-shaped meeting table. Warrant Officer Christophe Saba, Paulin Bamouni and Frédéric Kiemdé are seated on his right. On his left are Patrice Zagré, Bonaventure Compaoré and Alouna Traoré. Thomas Sankara, always late but also always in a hurry, opened the working session: “Let’s make it quick, let’s start!”.

© From left to right: Blaise Compaoré, Thomas Sankara and Jean-Baptiste Lingani, August 4, 1983, the day Sankara took power © Archives Jeune Afrique

Alouna Traoré, who the day before had left on a fact-finding mission in Contonou, begins his report: “I left Ouago the day before yesterday at 6 p.m…”. He stops, his voice suddenly muffled by the sound of a most likely a pierced exhaust pipe from an approaching car.

Shocked and annoyed, Sankara asks: “What is that noise?”, soon joined by Saba, who frowns : “What is that noise?”.

The noise gets louder, a car- “a Peugeot 504 or a covered Toyota”, says the only direct witness who survived. The car stopped in front of the small gate of the villa. Immediately, the noise of the engine was covered by the roar of Kalachinikov shots.

The seven men gathered in the room flat on the floor, hiding behind the armchairs. Among them, the only one to be armed since his guards remained in the corridor or in the garden,  was Sankara who grabs his gun which he had placed on the table, within reach.  From outside, someone shouts: “Get out! Come out!”

Sankara gets up, sighs loudly and orders his counsellors: “Stay! Stay! It’s me they want!”. He leaves the meeting room with his hands in the air.

© Thomas Sankara, president of the National Council of the Revolution (CNR), in March 1986 in Bobo-Dioulasso. Fabrice GUYOT / JA Archives

“He had barely stepped out of the door before he was shot” says Alouna Traoré. “The attackers had come to kill”.

The guards, the drivers and a biker from the police, Soré Patenema, who came by chance to bring mail to the CNR headquarters had all been shot in the first burst of gunfire. A former member of President of Faso’s guard, a man nicknamed Otis, who had since then been reinstated in the ranks of the para-commandos of Po (commanded by Captain Blaise Compaoré, who made him one of his drivers) – bursts into the meeting room, pushes the president’s collaborators towards the exit: “Out! Get out! Get out!”.

All those who obeyed were shot in turn. At the last moment, Patrice Zagré tries to take refuge in the meeting room, a shot in the back finishes him off.

Two fatal strikes to the head

Alouna Traoré, through sheer fear or survivorship, both perhaps, found himself lying on the gravel alive, bathed in the blood of his comrades, whose moans and sighs of agony he hears as if he was in a nightmare.

Four civilian members of the special cabinet (Paulin Bamouni, Patrice Zagré, Frédéric Kiemdé and Bonaventure Compaoré), eight soldiers, including Warrant Officer Christophe Saba, a poor police officer who was passing by, the drivers of the presidential convoy and four bodyguards. Alouna stepped over the PF’s body without even realising it.

Looking over his shoulder, he sees Thomas Sankara on the floor. Two shots to the head immediately killed him. He hears someone shouting: “There is one who isn’t dead! The one in blue! Let him get up!”. Alouna Traoré, the man in a blue tracksuit, stands up.

He was told to move forward and then lie back on the ground, between two other bodies, those of the two drivers.

He feels agitated. Covered in blood without a scratch on him. Around him, the commandos are still firing, but this time in the air, as if they wanted the outside world to believe that there was a fight going on within the walls of the Conseil de l’Entente; and with acrimony, as if they wanted to believe that they were really fighting and defending themselves.

This went on for a long time, perhaps thirty minutes, they used up all their ammunition this way.

The Conseil de l’Entente transformed into an execution field

Alouna is still on the ground. From the corner of his eye, he sees the driver-guard of Captain Blaise Compaorés body,  Hamidou Maîga, walking towards him wearing a blue mechanics overalls. He looks at Alouna at says to the others: “Leave it! I’ll finish him off!”

An officer (“I don’t know him, Alouna Traoré will say, his face was scarred”) objected and shouted. “Bring me the survivor”.

Alouna Traoré is brought to him, and he orders him to lie down again. The survivor tries to crawl and get close to the wall. “Stay still!” he shouts, “otherwise you’ll join the others”.

How long did he stay like that on the floor? “Two or three hours,” he says, without further explanation, until a soldier threatened him: “You saw everything. We can’t let you leave like that. You’re going to join the others!”.

Alouna doesn’t understand the situation he is in. He has gone beyond the stage of fear and has taken refuge in the world of absurd.

Ever since lying between the corpses, an image has haunted him: a photo of Mother Teresa, Nobel Peace Prize winner, in the middle of young miserable Indians, whom he had looked at for a long time that very morning. And for now, his only desire is to urinate. He is allowed to do so and he goes to relieve himself for a long time between the flowers of the gardens of the Conseil de l’Entente, transformed that very afternoon into a killing field.

Thirteen missing bodies

He was then taken upstairs to the floor of a villa where CNR agents were grouped together, who heard everything without having seen anything of the drama: the doctor-warrant officer Youssouf Ouedraogo, assistant to the warrant officer Christophe Saba, and the whole secretariat of the Laurent Kaboré, who also worked at the CNR.

In the middle of them, he was surprised to discover Bossobé, a guard of the president. Alouna Traoré’s blue sports outfit is soaked in blood. His hands, face and hair are bloody. He is told to wash himself and then to sit down.

Long after the sun had set, Alouna hears cars manoeuvring in the alleys of the Cartel Council. He risks a glance out the window. The thirteen corpses have disappeared; tankers are cleaning the scene of the drama with large water jets. He will spend the night behind the scenes, he won’t sleep. Turning over and over in his head is the same question: “What could the President have done to deserve this?”

Where are the alleged killers?

Relaunched at the beginning of 2015 by the transitional regime after the fall of Blaise Compaoré, the investigation into the assassination of Thomas Sankara is being conducted by the military examining magistrate, François Yamégo. Of the seventeen people he has charged, six are in pre-trial detention, including Gilbert Diendéré, Blaise Compaoré’s former private chief of staff. Two other indictees, accused of having played a major role in the case , are still at large in Burkina Faso and are the subject of an international arrest warrant: Blaise Compaoré and Hyacinthe Kafando.

Exiled to Abidjan, Compaoré is not expected to face Judge Yamégo any time soon as the Ivorian authorities seem reluctant to extradite him.

The second, former head of Compaoré’s close guard and leader of the squad that murdered Sankara, was summoned by the judge on the 22nd of June 2015. But the former MP never appeared before the military court. He fled the country without leaving a trace  and is also, according to our sources, a refugee in Côte d’Ivoire.

Several unsolved leads

Apart from Compaoré and Kafando, most of the suspects were trialed. Summoned twice in 2016 by Judge Yaméogo, Salif Diallo, the former head of Compaoré who died last August, denied any responsibility to do with the assassination of Sankara. He also added that Blaise Compaoré could not ignore what was being planned. As for Gilbert Diendér, he said he had not been informed of any operation against Sankara and that it was Hyacinthe Kafando who took the initiative.

Judge Yaméogo, for his part, is interested in possible foreign involvements, in particular French, Ivorian and Togolese. He has sent a letter of request to Paris, asking for the lifting of the defence secrecy on certain archives and the hearings of various people. The French authorities responded in May, saying that they have “no objection”  but that they first need to obtain a “certain number of clarifications”.

For news and events coverage, photo features, contributions and adverts contact us via:
Phone: +2348029115783
WhatsApp: +2347037611903
Follow us via:
Facebook: @Words and Shots
Instagram: @words_and_shots
Twitter: @wordsandshots
Continue Reading